Soccer Recap - Zlatan Ibrahimović steals the show in MLS debut

Caption: Ibrahimović came off the bench in the 71st minute and scored a brace in his MLS debut. LA Galaxy

No story may have garnered more eyeballs in the soccer world this weekend than the debut of Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the LA Galaxy. The Sweden international arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday night, trained for the first time with his new team on Friday and helped his club to win the first LA derby.

Elsewhere in the world, leagues resumed after the FIFA international break. Coming up this week is the return of international club competition, including the UEFA Champions League.

Here are the top stories in soccer from the weekend:

Premier League

Manchester City picked up a 3-1 win at Everton, setting them up for a chance to clinch their third Premier League title in the 176th Manchester Derby next weekend against Manchester United. To be crowned against their neighbors - and in front of their people at the City of Manchester Stadium - would be a sweet way for the “noisy neighbors” to cap off the season.

The other race worth following is the other three spots for Champions League. Tottenham solidified their way towards securing a return to Europe’s primary international competition by defeating Chelsea 3-1 at their place, also compromising their London rivals into possibly missing out from the same competition. Arsenal picked up a 3-0 win vs. Stoke City, who are heading towards relegation while other relegation bound clubs West Brom and Southampton also lost.

Liverpool and Leicester City picked up road wins, Manchester United won 2-nil over Swansea and Newcastle picked up a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town. Manchester City and Liverpool - the two remaining teams in Champions League - face off Wednesday in the first leg of the UCL quarter finals.

Top 5: Manchester City (84), Manchester United (68), Liverpool (66), Tottenham (64), Chelsea (56)

La Liga

Sevilla was winning 2-nil against FC Barcelona, having the league leaders against the ropes. Then Leo Messi came off the bench to inspire to a 2-2 draw - scoring one of his own to save a point and keep Barcelona’s undefeated record intact. Atletico Madrid, who were without star forward Antoine Griezmann, picked up a 1-nil win over Deportivo to keep pace in second. Real Madrid is behind them in third with a 3-nil win this weekend over Las Palmas. Valencia got a 1-nil win at Leganes while Villarreal stumbled, losing 1-nil at Malaga.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (76), Atletico Madrid (67), Real Madrid (63), Valencia (62), Villarreal (47)


FC Bayern Munich continue to dominate the Bundesliga by defeating their hated rivals Borussia Dortmund in a 6-nil beatdown. FCB continues to hold a stranglehold on the league with a 17 point lead, making it only a matter of time until they secure their 27th title. Schalke continues in second with a 2-nil win over Freiburg. Hoffenheim also picked up a 6-0 win, at home over Cologne. Leipzig got a 3-2 win at Hannover 96.

Top 5: FC Bayern Munich (69), Schalke 04 (52), Dortmund (48), RB Leipzig (46), Bayer Leverkusen (45)

Serie A

Juventus stayed at the top of the table with a 3-1 win over A.C. Milan, who fall to eight points from the top four. Napoli drew 1-1 at Sassuolo while Inter Milan won 3-0 vs. Hellas Verona. Lazio dominated Benevento in a 6-2 home win. The Serie A continues Tuesday with clubs playing midweek and on the weekend this week.

Top 5: Juventus (78), Napoli (74), Roma (60), Inter Milan (58), Lazio (57)

Ligue 1

There were only seven league matches this past weekend - excluding PSG and Marseille. Among notable results, Guingamp won 2-1 over Bordeaux, Nantes lost 0-3 vs. St. Etienne and Nice won 2-0 at Troyes with a double from Alassane Plea. Lyon won 2-0 at Toulouse. Monaco have their week 31 match coming up Wednesday.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (83), Monaco (66), Marseille (62), Lyon (60), Montpellier (45)

Major League Soccer

Toronto FC picked up their first win of the season in a 3-1 bout over Real Salt Lake, days before their semifinal bout against Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League. Orlando picked up its first three points as well against the other MLS team still alive in CCL, New York Red Bulls. Vancouver - the best road team since 2015 - won 2-1 at Columbus, while Atlanta, NYCFC and Montreal picked up away wins at Minnesota, San Jose and Seattle respectively. Sporting KC defeated D.C. United at home while Colorado won 3-0 over Philadelphia.

The Houston Dynamo lost 2-0 at home to the New England Revolution, now the Dynamo’s second loss of the season after losing only once in league play in 2017. Down 1-0, the Men in Orange were down to ten men with the red card to team captain DaMarcus Beasley in the 35th minute. The Revs scored midway in the second half to secure the win - sending Houston into a three game winless streak.

The match of the weekend was the first ever LA Derby. Sold out before the announcement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the LA Galaxy, the first ever “El Trafico” (nicknamed after the city’s traffic reputation) started with dominance from expansion side LAFC. Carlos Vela put up the Black and Gold in the lead after five minutes, which eventually turned into a 3-nil lead. A goal by U.S. international Sebastian Lletget put the Galaxy back in it before Zlatan came in to inspire his team to the comeback victory, starting off the second goal and scoring the third and fourth. Sebastian Lletget will be a guest on Glenn Davis’ Soccer Matters this coming Wednesday (7-9 p.m. CT) on ESPN 97.5 FM.

East Top 6: NYCFC (13), Columbus Crew SC (10), Atlanta United (9), New England Revolution (7), NY Red Bulls (6), Montreal Impact (6)

West Top 6: Sporting KC (10), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10), LA Galaxy (7), LAFC (6), Minnesota United (6), FC Dallas (5)

Liga MX

With a 2-1 win at Lobos, and a Atlas 3-2 win over Santos Laguna, Toluca are now top of the table in Mexico. Tigres won at home, 4-1 over Leon, in the battle of the felines. Chivas won 2-1 at Monarcas, days before their semifinal bout vs. NY Red Bulls, while the other Mexican Champions League team Club America won 2-1 over their Mexico City rivals Cruz Azul - eliminating them from the playoff race.

Top 5: Toluca (27), Santos Laguna (26), Tigres (25), Club America (24), Monterrey (21)

National Women’s Soccer League

Houston Dash opened week two in the NWSL with a scoreless draw against the Utah Royals - starting off new coach Vera Pauw’s era with two draws. North Carolina Courage welcomed Sky Blue FC to the 2018 season with a 1-0 win at home. Washington Spirit defeated Orlando Pride 2-0 while Portland Thorns won 3-2 at Chicago Red Stars. The league now breaks for FIFA friendlies.

The United States Women’s National Team will face off against Mexico at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday (12:30 p.m., TICKETS).

Top 4: North Carolina Courage (6), Seattle Reign (3), Washington Spirit (3), Portland Thorns (3)

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Apr. 3:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Juventus vs. Real Madrid (FS1/FOX Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Sevilla vs. FC Bayern Munich (Facebook/ESPN Deportes)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Toronto FC vs. Club America (go90.com/Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Apr. 4:

11:30 a.m. - [Serie A] A.C. Milan vs. Inter Milan (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] FC Barcelona vs. Roma (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Liverpool vs. Manchester City (FS2)

9 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Chivas Guadalajara vs. New York Red Bulls (go90.com/Univision Deportes)

Thursday, Apr. 5:

2 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Arsenal vs. CSKA Moscow (FS1)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Atletico Madrid vs. Sporting CP (FS2)

6 p.m. - [International Friendly] U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Mexico (FS1/Univision Deportes)

Friday, Apr. 6:

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hannover vs. Werder Bremen (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] St. Etienne vs. Paris Saint-Germain (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Apr. 7:

8 a.m. - [Serie A] Benevento vs. Juventus (beIN Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Augsburg vs. FC Bayern Munich (FS2/UniMas)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Manchester United (NBC)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Leganes (beIN Sports)

4 p.m. - [MLS] Atlanta United vs. LAFC (ESPN)

Sunday, Apr. 8:

8:15 a.m. - [Premier League] Everton vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Dortmund vs. Stuttgart (FS1)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Chelsea vs. West Ham (NBC Sports)

12:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Mexico (FOX)

3 p.m. - [MLS] Orlando City vs. Portland Timbers (ESPN)

8 p.m. - [MLS] LA Galaxy vs. Sporting KC (FS1)

Sunday, Apr. 9:

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Southampton (NBC Sports)

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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